At the Track and Field World Championships in Doha, Qatar, the world was put on notice. Although incredibly young, the USA men’s team is teeming with world class talent. They brought home nine gold medals, which is their most in a World Championship since 2007. They looked poised for a dominant showing this summer at the Olympics before life came screeching to a halt.
The Tokyo summer games have been postponed until 2021 disrupting the plans of athletes in every sport, but for the US track team, the delay might be a blessing in disguise. With many of the group’s stars still under the age of 27, another year to prepare may put them a leg up on the competition.
But before they can get to the bright lights of Tokyo, every athlete has to be top three in their event at the Olympic trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon next June. A lot can change between now and then, but here are the early favorites in each event to wear the stars and stripes at the 2021 Summer Olympics.
100-Meter Dash: Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Justin Gatlin
Honorable Mentions: Mike Rogers, Ronnie Baker
With Usain Bolt out of the picture, America has a chance to dominate the sprints once again. 24 year old Christian Coleman is the reigning world champion and current fastest man in the world. His 9.76 personal best in the 100 makes him the third fastest American ever over the distance, and he is expected to bring home gold in 2021.
Noah Lyles will be right on his tail though. In 2019, he elected to focus on the 200 meter and did not race the 100 at the bigger meets. But he has beaten Coleman in the 100 in the past, and the confident 25 year old has said that he plans to race and win both events at the Olympics.
He doesn’t have the picture perfect start out of the blocks that Coleman has, but nobody has a faster top speed than Lyles. His 9.86 PB makes him the favorite to finish right behind Coleman in Tokyo.
The third spot for the US is a little more of a question mark. Justin Gatlin is the second fastest American in history, but at 38 years old, the one year postponement certainly doesn’t help him. If he is not in peak form, look for Mike Rodgers, who helped the US win gold in the 4×100 relay last year in Doha, to snap up that third spot.
But also don’t count out Ronnie Baker; a world class sprinter in 2018, he is on his way back from multiple injuries that have derailed him in the last year. If he is healthy, he can run with anybody. However it shakes out at the trials, the US has a strong chance to bring home plenty of Olympic hardware in this event come next August.
200-meter dash: Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, Christian Coleman
Honorable Mentions: Kenny Bednarek, Cravon Gillespie
If everything goes to script, we should see Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman facing off again in the 200 in Tokyo. The only difference in this event is that Lyles will be the heavy favorite. His PB of 19.50 seconds at a Diamond League meet in 2019 put him fourth on the all-time rankings in the event. He won gold in Doha last year in dominating fashion and has looked almost unbeatable.
The only man to beat him in the 200 during his dominant 2019 season is his teammate Michael Norman. Norman is a 22 year old rising star out of the University of Southern California, but is known primarily for his ability in the 400. He shocked everyone in the Rome Diamond League event last June by edging out Noah Lyles at the line and dropping a 19.70 PB in the process, which was the number two time of the year.
If these three talented youngsters make it through to the Olympic final, we could very well see a US sweep of the event. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that even the stars have to earn their way on the team at the US trials, where there are dozens of world class sprinters itching to earn themselves a ticket to the biggest stage in sports.
The main challengers in the 200: Kenny Bednarek and Cravon Gillespie. Even on an incredibly young team, these two stick out for their youth. Both are under the age of 24 and fresh out of college. But that doesn’t mean they can’t go stride for stride with the world’s best.
Bednarek, after running a full college and professional season, made it all the way to the finals of the USA Track and Field Championships, and finished the season with a PB of 19.82, which was good enough for fourth in the world last year.
Gillespie finished up his senior season with the Oregon Ducks in 2019 and immediately made a splash at the pro level by running the 10th fastest time in the world. So don’t lose track of these two come next June. Noah Lyles may be head and shoulders above the field, but anything can happen in a 20 second race.
400-Meter Run: Michael Norman, Fred Kerley, Kahmari Montgomery
Honorable Mentions: Trevor Stewart, Wil London
If you asked anyone before the 2019 US Championships who the best 400 meter runner in America is, they would almost certainly say Michael Norman. He had not lost a race in the event all season, and he set a blazing world leading time of 43.45.
Unfortunately things fell apart for the young star when the most important races came along. He fell short in the finals at the USA’s, finishing second. Two months later at the World Championships, he failed to make it to the final. An unfortunate ending to a breakout season. With Norman falling apart in the latter stages of the season, another American seized the spotlight in the 400.
Fred Kerley won the US title and brought home a bronze medal from Doha. He may have a slower PB than Norman, but in many people’s eyes, Kerley has seized the title as the country’s top dog in the event. Regardless of who the alpha is though, Kerley and Norman are two of the top five in the world right now.
However, this leaves a big gap to the third member of the team, as the spot is still very much in question. The role is most likely to be filled by one of three young stars with none of which having more than one professional season under their belt.
Kahmari Montgomery, Trevor Stewart, and Wil London went one, two, three, respectively, at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships. With another year until the trials, there is a very good chance that one of them will develop into a true world class performer. It is unlikely that the US will be as dominant in the 400 as the 100 or 200, but it is still very possible they walk away with more than one medal in 2021.
800-Meter Run: Donavon Brazier, Clayon Murphy, Bryce Hoppel
Honorable Mentions: Devin Dixon, Branon Kidder
Barring something unexpected happening at the trials next year, this team is probably set in stone. The trio of Donovan Brazier, Clayton Murphy, and Bryce Hoppel brings a combination of experience and young talent that could really make some noise at the summer games. With all due respect to Devin Dixon and Branon Kidder, I don’t see anyone beating these two at the US trials.
Brazier is the defending world champion, the fastest American 800 runner ever, and only 22. Murphy burst onto the world stage in 2016 and won bronze at the Rio games. Hoppel dominated the collegiate field last year by winning 21 straight races on his way to winning the NCAA championship. He followed this up by shocking everyone and making all the way to the 800 final in Doha.
The United States has not won an Olympic gold in this event since 1972. With two time defending Olympic champion David Rudisha battling injury and probably on the backside of his prime, this team has a chance to do something special.
Nijel Amos ran the fastest overall time in 2019, but Donovan Brazier has shown that he is more than capable of racing against the world’s best. And with Murphy and Hoppel as his teammates, the US could find themselves with more than one medal in an event where they are usually not the front-runners.
1500-Meter Run: Matthew Centrowitz, Craig Engels, Ben Blankenship
Honorable Mentions: Joshua Thompson, John Gregorek
As the events get longer in distance, the US team begins to get outmatched. Every event from the 1500 to the marathon is usually dominated by athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya. However, at the Rio Olympics, one American tore a giant hole in this narrative and made history.
Matthew Centrowitz won gold in the 1500 that year, as the first American to do so since 1908. It was an amazing moment for US track, and something no fan of the sport will forget. Centrowitz will be back next year, but unfortunately not in the same form. He has had an unfortunate string of injuries since 2016, and has failed to regain his Olympic form. He showed flashes of his old self in 2019, but still ended up in eighth place at the World Championships; a far cry from Olympic gold.
Without Centrowitz in peak form, it is unlikely that America medals in the 1500, especially with the strength of the field, but Craig Engels and Ben Blankenship would make up a very solid team alongside Centrowitz. Blankenship ran alongside Centrowitz in the 1500 in Rio, and is one of the most experienced US distance runners.
Craig Engels is a talented 26 year old who won the national title in this event last year and might be the front-runner for the US depending on the health and fitness of Centrowitz. This will be one of the more experienced US groups at the Olympics regardless of who qualifies with veterans Joshua Thompson and John Gregorek as the clear next best two if anyone falters.
They are unlikely to beat the likes of Timothy Cheriuyut or Jakob Ingebritsen, but they could certainly make some noise.
5000-Meter Run: Paul Chelimo, Lopez Lomong, William Kincaid
Honorable Mentions: Hassan Mead, Ben True
Led by two American distance legends, this may be the strongest 5k team that the US has had in a very long time. Paul Chelimo won the silver medal in the event in Rio. No american had medaled in the event since 1964. The star kept that momentum going into 2017 where he won bronze at worlds.
Last year at the US championships, he was the favorite to win his second national title, but was out-kicked and had to settle for second. This would have been a major upset if the man who edged him out wasn’t two time Olympian Lopez Lomong.
Lomong has won US titles in the 1500, 5k, and 10k, and has been the gold standard for American distance running for the last decade. He is now 35, but hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down not only beating Chelimo in the 5k at USA’s last year, but also winning the 10k title in the same week.
These two stars should have no problem dispatching the field at the US trials. The third qualifier will probably come down to two runners. William Kincaid, a 27 year old who actually ran the fastest US 5k last year with a 12:58 at Nike headquarters in Oregon, and Hassan Mead, an experienced athlete of both the 5k and 10k, who won multiple medals at the US Championships in the last few years and coming four spots behind Chelimo at worlds.
This team should have success, but a medal in this event is not easy. Chelimo ran his fastest time of the year at worlds last year, yet it only earned him a seventh place finish in the race. Even with British great Mo Farah not competing in the event anymore, the 5k is as loaded as it has ever been.
Ethiopia is as strong as it has ever been by taking three of the top four spots in the final at worlds. The three Ingebritsen brothers from Norway are all world class, especially Jakob, who is only 19, and placed 5th in Doha. A medal will be a tall task for the US squad, but it is not out of the picture.
10000-Meter Run: Lopez Lomong, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Kirubel Erassa
Honorable Mentions: Leonard Korir, Ben True
If there is an event where the US is outclassed, it is this one. Lopez Lomong is far and away the best American at the distance showcased by his victory at the US championships last year, where he pumped his fists and waved to the crowd a full 100 meters before the finish line. The best that he could do on the world stage in Doha was seventh. That was far from a poor performance from Lomong, but the fact of the matter is that America can’t stack up with the rest of the world at this distance.
Joining Lomong will most likely be Shadrack Kipchirchir, a finalist at worlds, and Kirubel Erassa, the 35th ranked 10k runner in 2019 and fifth place finisher at the USATF Championships. This is certainly a group with potential, but an Olympic medal in this event in Tokyo would take nothing short of a heroic performance from Lopez Lomong.
Marathon: Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley, Abdi Abdirahman
Honorable Mentions: N/A
The US Olympic marathon team is in a unique situation. With the trials scheduled for February 29th, they occurred well before the Olympics were postponed. So there is no speculation about who will represent the country.
Galen Rupp is one of the most successful American distance runners ever. He grabbed bronze in the Rio Olympic marathon and won the 2017 Chicago Marathon. He has battled injuries over the last couple years, but his win at the 2020 trials seemed to be his symbolic return to elite form.
Jacob Riley was a big surprise coming in only a minute behind Rupp at the trials. With very limited professional marathon experience, he is a relative unknown. Not a medal candidate, but an interesting athlete to watch for sure.
Abdi Abdirahaman is more of a known commodity. He was third in the 2016 New York Marathon and has a very solid 2:08:56 PB. Still not a contender, but he should be in the top half of the field. In terms of hardware, Galen Rupp is the one who has a real shot at a medal, and the extra year can only help him.
110-Meter Hurdles: Grant Holloway, Daniel Roberts, Devon Allen
Honorable Mentions: Freddie Crittenden, Dashaun Jackson
It would be expected that an event led by two 22 year olds would not be a strong one for the US, but in this case, those 22 year olds ran the two fastest times in the world in 2019. The Daniel Roberts and Grant Hollaway show did not disappoint last year. At the NCAA championships Roberts dropped a 13.0, the second fastest times in the finals… and lost. Holloway ran 12.98, breaking the 40 year old NCAA record and setting a world lead that would stand for the rest of the year.
After that race both, men turned pro and immediately showed that they belonged; going one-two at the US Championship. That is where the dream season ended for Roberts, as he was disqualified in the first round at worlds. But Holloway wasn’t done. He pulled off the biggest upset of the meet by defeating reigning world champion and Olympic gold medalist Omar Mcleod. With an extra year to prepare for the Olympics, who knows what these two can do.
Roberts and Holloway will most likely be joined by two time US champion Devon Allen, who is a good veteran presence for the two young guns. He made it to the final of the World Championships and is more than capable of running with the world’s best. But in an event where one clipped hurdle can ruin someone’s day, anything is possible.
If Allen falters in the trials, expect Freddie Crittenden to pounce on the opportunity to make his first Olympics. He ran the seventh fastest time in the world last year and missed making the team for worlds by one spot.
It is a unique and challenging position for two young runners to have such expectations on their backs from such a young age, but Holloway and Roberts are used to the bright lights. If they race to their full capability, there is no reason that these two can’t both grab a spot on the Olympic podium.
400-Meter Hurdles: Rai Benjamin, T.J. Holmes, Quincy Hall
Honorable Mentions: Amere Lattin, Norman Grimes
This event was all about two men last year. Karsten Warholm of Norway and Rai Benjamin of the US. In every race, the pair seemingly operated on a different level from the rest of the field. They battled it out to the very end at worlds with Warholm holding Benjamin off in a tough and gutsy race. At the Olympics, the two will most likely end up dueling it out for gold again with few others able or willing to go with them.
Benjamin is the clear top dog in the event for the US, but there is still a solid group behind him. T.J. Holmes finished fifth in that very same World Championship final and is still only 24. Quincy Hall won the 2019 NCAA title and ran the world’s 10th fastest time that year in the process. Amere Lattin lost to Hall in that race, but ended up making it all the way to the semifinals at Worlds just a few months later.
So Benjamin is probably the only lock to make the team, and the only one likely to medal in Tokyo, but whoever makes the team alongside him has a chance to make some noise.
3000-Meter Steeplechase: Hillary Bor, Stanley Kipkoech Kebenei, Evan Jager
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Bayer, Mason Ferlic
We reach yet another distance event in which the US is not the dominant force. All three of their athletes made the final in Doha: Hillary Bor, Stanley Kipkoech Kebenei, and Andrew Bayer, but Bor was the highest finisher at eight.
For the Olympics, the team may get some reinforcements by way of American record holder Evan Jager, who has been recovering from a foot injury. If he can return to the form he was in during the 2016 Olympics, where he won silver, he could come home with another medal. But if he is hobbled, it is unlikely that anyone else can beat any of the top runners from Kenya or Ethiopia, where much of the top talent in the event comes from.
4×100-Meter Relay: Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Justin Gatlin, Mike Rogers
Honorable Mentions: Ronnie Baker, Cravon Gillespie
The story for the US in the 4×100 has been a little bit of a broken record for the last decade. If they hold onto the baton, they have a very good chance to win. Team USA has squandered many opportunities in the event by way of botched handoffs most notably in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But last year in Doha, the team worked as a cohesive unit winning gold. They will most likely stick with that same team for 2021: Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin, Mike Rogers, and Noah Lyles. With Coleman leading off and Lyles anchoring, there is no team that comes close to the talent level of the US. If the stick stays off the track, they should cruise to gold.
4×400-Meter Relay: Michael Norman, Fred Kerley, Rai Benjamin, Wil London
Honorable Mentions: Kahmari Montgomery, Trevor Stewart
With four of the top ten fastest 400 runners in the world on this team, there are not many countries that are going to be able to produce a team that can compete with this one. Michael Norman and Fred Kerley are the names that jump out at you, but don’t forget about Rai Benjamin. There is so much talk of his brilliance in the hurdles that it is easy to look past the fact that he is a world class 400 runner.
He only ran the event twice in 2019 and still ended up with the ninth fastest time in the world. This team won Worlds going away last year, and did it without Michael Norman. Needless to say, the world record might not be safe for much longer.
High Jump: Jeron Robinson, Shelby Mcewen, Jordan Wesner
Honorable Mentions: Ernest Sears, JuVaughn Harrison, Jonathon Wells
Once an event that the US excelled at, the team has struggled a bit of the last half decade. They failed to medal in both the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 World Championships. In fact last year in Doha, their highest finisher, Jeron Robinson, was only 11th. With seemingly no new talent, it is highly unlikely that this team gets a medal.
The team will most likely consist of Robinson, ranked 12th in the world, Shelby Mcewen, ranked 13th, and Jordan Wesner, ranked 32nd.
Long Jump: Jeff Henderson, Steffin McCarter, Will Claye
Honorable Mentions: JuVaughn Harrison, Trumaine Jefferson
The US has fared much better in the sand pit than over the high jump bar in recent history. That is mostly due to the excellence of Jeff Henderson. He is the reigning Olympic champion and won silver in Doha. His 8.52 meter PB gives him the 24th best mark in history. He should definitely be in the mix for gold come next year. There is a considerable drop off in US talent after him though.
Steffin McCarters PB is 8.25 meters, and after making it to the finals at worlds, he faulted all three jumps. He has potential to do some good things but is nowhere close to Henderson. Will Claye is also a talented long jumper, with a PB of 8.42 meters, and even won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics, but he is much better at the triple jump. So come next year all eyes will be on Jeff Henderson to see if he can win back-to-back Olympic golds.
Triple Jump: Will Claye, Christian Taylor, Omar Craddock
Honorable Mentions: Donald Scott, Chris Benard
If there is one field event that you should watch in the 2021 Olympics, it’s this one. This may be the best chance the US has to sweep the medals in an event on the men’s side. Christian Taylor and Will Claye are not only the two best in the world right now, they are two of the three best ever.
In both 2012 and 2016, Taylor took gold and Claye took silver. They did the same at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. If there is a lock for the 2021 games, it is these two sharing the podium. The only difference this time is that they may have their number three to complete the sweep.
Omar Craddock had a disappointing World Championships last year, failing to make the finals, but that doesn’t tell the story of his whole season. He jumped a PB of 17.68 meters, the third best mark in the world that year, behind only Taylor and Claye. That jump was not a fluke either, as he had multiple that season over 17.5. If he can produce a few more of those jumps next year at the right time, the US may have their first successful medal sweep since 2008.
Javelin: Michael Shuey, Riley Dolezal, Curtis Thompson
Honorable Mentions: Tim Glover, Tzuriel Pedigo
To put it lightly: this is not an event that team USA excels at. They have not had a medalist at the Olympics since 1972. Last year at Worlds, they didn’t even have anyone make it to the final. Their top thrower last year was Michael Shuey, whose 83.21 meter season best made him the 28th best thrower of the season in the world.
There is almost zero chance for him or any American in the event to medal next year, but the foundation can be laid for a new generation of throwers.
Shot Put: Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser, Darrell Hill
Honorable Mentions: Jonathon Jones, Jordan Geist
The shot put does not get much attention, even from track enthusiasts, but it has been one of the successful events for Team USA. Joe Kovacs and Ryan Crouser went one-two respectively at the World Championships last year.
Three years earlier at the Olympics, they did the same thing, but this time with Crouser taking gold and Kovacs taking silver. These two look to continue their run of dominance in Tokyo. And their number three is not far behind.
Darrell Hill will most likely fill this role. He came in fifth last year, and if it wasn’t for the sustained excellence of Krouser and Kovacs, he would be receiving a lot more attention. With this strong trio, anything other than multiple Olympic medals next year would be a disappointment.